December 31, 2008

Sentences in 1K

by Nick Montfort · , 9:38 am

By Charles O. Hartman and Hugh Kenner
Sun and Moon Press
New American Poetry Series: 18
84 p.

Sentences begins.

money must
Sentences for love forsaken.

To write Sentences, Hartman and Kenner took 457 19th-century “Sentences for Analysis and Parsing, Thayer Street Grammar School” and providentially generated an intermediate text, using Claude Shannon’s Markov chain technique as implemented in TRAVESTY by Hugh Kenner and Joseph O’Rourke. The resulting text was corrected and used as input to Hartman’s program DIASTEXT, which carried out diastic selection as developed by Jackson Mac Low. The output carries odd traces of its devising: “Sentences listened listened the the / The owner owner pines.” Sentences is a fascinating read as well as a classic computer-generated literary text. The uncanny and interesting source text fits the project well. Beyond that, there’s the remarkable combination of a generative technique that was more scientifically inspired by the properties of language with a selective one that is purely aesthetic.